Whether you are a professional athlete, a weekend warrior, or just a hard worker, you probably have suffered a physical injury. Equally likely, your healthcare provider suggested applying heat (thermotherapy) or cold (cryotherapy) to the injured area. But did they mention a combination of both could be most effective?
By following the same principles that professional therapists use, you can help maximize pain relief, accelerate recovery, and get back to your normal activities quicker. Here are some tips for using heat and cold therapies like a pro.
When to Use Heat or Cold Therapy
Professionals have a simple rule-of-thumb: apply cold immediately to new injuries, apply heat to old ones, however, that this is not a hard and fast rule.
When you suffer an injury, your body reacts with the inflammatory process (heat and swelling to the injured area, etc.). Professionals apply ice immediately after an injury to help relieve pain and reduce the tissue damage done by inflammation.
After inflammation has faded, heat is often used in the rehabilitation process, because heat increases circulation by dilating the blood vessels. The greater blood flow helps relieve pain and relaxes sore muscles and joints.
Adding heat to an already uncomfortably hot area can increase discomfort. Your best bet is to make a clear judgement on your own—if it feels good, do it. If it feels bad, stop. Whenever applying heat or cold, never continue therapy if it hurts, and speak with your healthcare provider for alternative solutions.
One therapy that combines both heat and cold is contrast therapy. Alternating heat and cold can help increase circulation and reduce pain. Contrast therapy offers many advantages to both patients and practitioners. Heat brings valuable blood and nutrients to the injury site, while cold helps relieve pain by decreasing sensitivity in the affected tissues. This method can be used to treat common injuries such a sprains, lower back pain, and for post-surgical recovery.
Recommended treatment times vary. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine what’s best for you.
More is Better
Many healthcare professionals recommend combining multiple therapeutic approaches. Virtually everyone who has treated a sprain has learned the following “RICE” acronym:
- Rest – Don’t walk around on an injury.
- Ice – Apply cold.
- Compression – Bandage the injury, or better yet, use a cold therapy machine with an anatomically designed wrap that provides active pneumatic (air) compression.
- Elevation – Lift up the injured area to reduce swelling.
Take it Easy
The best therapy in the world won’t do you a bit of good if you don’t actually do it.. Take the easy way out and get a therapeutic wrap that combines heat, cryotherapy, and compression. In this case, convenience is not a luxury. You are much more likely to benefit from multiple therapies if you keep it simple and neat.
If you frequently get hurt exercising, or coach a sports team, where injuries are common, a recovery system and wraps are especially wise investments. A circumferential wrap, anatomically designed to cover an entire injury or surgery area may help improve recovery outcomes , as it allows the therapeutic benefits of heat and cold therapy to fully encompass the injury . Utilizing hot and cold therapies like a pro may help heal your injuries faster. You may require less pain medication and may be able to resume your normal activities faster.